bark, fungi, lichen, moss (and a bird)

3.9.21 ~ The Merritt Family Forest, Groton, Connecticut

We had a lovely winding stroll through what’s becoming my favorite woods on Tuesday. It felt like a visit to an early spring outdoor art gallery. The weather was perfect and we encountered quite a few people along the way enjoying the sunshine.

Even though there were many birds chirping and flitting about I was only able to capture one of them with my camera!

tufted titmouse

And solitary places; where we taste
The pleasure of believing what we see
Is boundless, as we wish our souls to be.

~ Percy Bysshe Shelley
(The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley: In Three Volumes)

Wednesday we went to have our income taxes done. It was the last thing we did last year before we went into self-quarantine. We double-masked up, not knowing what to expect, and our masked preparer waved us a greeting and unlocked the door. It was good to know they weren’t letting people wander in without appointments. Someone in the office had tested positive recently so most of the preparers were at home in quarantine but ours had been fully vaccinated so she was working in the office. Glad to see there was plexiglass and hand sanitizer everywhere…

So it’s been a year. We have both had our first vaccination shots. Tim gets his second Moderna on the 17th and I will get my second Pfizer on the 26th. Looks like our self-quarantine will officially end on April 9. Plans for the little ones (and their parents!) to come for a visit are in the works, most likely in May. It’s all I can think about!

Unlike animals, trees cannot heal a wound by repairing or replacing injured tissues. Instead they wall them off, compartmentalizing them by means of chemical and physical barriers, and subsequently form healthy new growth around them. A succession of organisms, from bacteria and fungi to slugs, insects, and other small animals, moves in to utilize the nutrients and spaces opened up by a tree wound. These organisms in turn provide an important food source for many birds and other animals who live in surrounding uplands as well as in the swamp.
~ David M. Carroll
(Swampwalker’s Journal: A Wetlands Year)

We will still wear our masks and practice social distancing in public, but I think we will go more places and are even looking forward to eating at our favorite restaurant again, starting outdoors until we feel comfortable going inside…

But, fair warning, these are the latest statistics: New London County now has 19,624 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those, 10 people are currently in the hospital and 417 have lost their lives. That’s 2,871 new cases since January 30 when I last reported. Will a day ever come when there are no new cases reported?

Connecticut’s positive test rate is now 3.07%. 25% of Connecticut residents have had their first dose of vaccine. Connecticut has had 7,752 deaths since the pandemic began. We are still averaging 7 deaths a day in the state. These are people and families are still being devastated by the loss of the their loved ones. Each and every one of these people represented by the numbers was the most important person in the world so someone. We still have to be very careful and not let our guard down.

My hope is, when we come out of self-quarantine, that we will continue with our nature walks and not get too swept up in the demands of a return to “normal” life.

It is easy to overlook this thought that life just is. As humans we are inclined to feel that life must have a point. We have plans and aspirations and desires. We want to take constant advantage of all the intoxicating existence we’ve been endowed with. But what’s life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be, is every bit as strong as ours — arguably even stronger. If I were told that I had to spend decades being a furry growth on a rock in the woods, I believe I would lose the will to go on. Lichens don’t. Like virtually all living things, they will suffer any hardship, endure any insult, for a moment’s additional existence. Life, in short, just wants to be. But — and here’s an interesting point — for the most part it doesn’t want to be much.
~ Bill Bryson
(A Short History of Nearly Everything)

tipping rock

2.24.21 ~ Hewitt Farm, North Stonington, Connecticut

Because of the winter storms we hadn’t had a real walk in the woods in over a month. “Get out there!” my favorite TV weatherman advised on Wednesday morning. We opened the door and the birds were singing and it felt like a spring day at 45°F (7°C). Most of the snow had melted. So we headed out to a new park for us, the Hewitt Farm in North Stonington.

This 104-acre park and recreation area was purchased by the Town of North Stonington in 2008 for the enjoyment of its residents and visitors to the region. The property consists of forests, fields, wetlands and streams; more than a mile of hiking trails, including the town’s Bicentennial Trail; the Shunock River; 3.5-acre Lower Hewitt Pond and dam; and several structures. The dam originally provided water-power to John Dean Gallup’s woolen mill located nearby.
~ Hewitt Farm Trail Map

a preview of the bigger rock to come

We took the Bicentennial Trail. It felt so good to be outside with a just a sweatshirt and no gloves needed! We walked for an hour and a half, up a hill to Tipping Rock, a huge glacier erratic that didn’t disappoint. From the top of the hill we could see the wooded landscape 360° all around us. But there was also lots to see along the way.

moss texture
another glacial erratic with a different energy
interesting root formation

For most of us knowledge comes largely through sight, yet we look about with such unseeing eyes that we are partially blind. One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”
~ Rachel Carson
(The Sense of Wonder)

perhaps the largest burl we’ve encountered

Not sure how long the trail would be we were thinking of turning back but then we saw the sign. So we pressed on up the hill…

first glimpse (telephoto lens)
what? could that be a ladder?
yes, indeed
no, we do not “do” ladders!
photo by Tim

After much oohing and aahing we headed back down the hill. It was a lot easier and faster than climbing up, but we still paused to see a lot of nature’s delights.

pincushion moss, I think
another interesting root formation

About half way down we heard the delighful sounds of excited children approaching. Two mothers with two babies and four little ones between them were coming up the trail so we took our usual six-feet-off-the-trail position as they passed. We exchanged pleasant greetings. They were wondering about the ladder…

remnants of autumn and winter

We were so happy to be out and about, as much as is possible, during the pandemic. Tim got his first shot on the 17th. Next one scheduled for March 17. My age group opens up on Monday but it may take a while to get an appointment because there are a lot more people in my age group than there are in Tim’s.

winter-patience

1.13.21 ~ Stoddard Hill State Park
Ledyard, Connecticut

Several weeks after our first visit to this state park we returned to hike up the hill to the lookout, 183 feet (56 meters) above the river. The leaf-covered path started behind the cemetery and was much more steep than we had anticipated.

looking towards the Thames River from behind Stoddard Cemetery

It wasn’t long before I covered the camera lens and grabbed two strong walking sticks to steady myself. Tim already had his walking stick and was more steady on his feet, but had to stop frequently to catch his breath. I was starting to question the wisdom of embarking on this expedition! Especially when we lost the trail and decided to just keep going up…

several kinds of moss and lichen on a rotting log

When things leveled off a bit I got a few pictures…

mushroom
princess pine trying to poke through the layers of leaves

Near the top we turned around near this ledge and saw the cemetery way down below…

Stoddard Cemetery from high above

At last we could see an opening in the woods and views of the river, trees and railroad tracks below. Tim said it was a good thing we came in the winter because the leaves on the trees would have blocked these lovely scenes. Keep in mind, under these ridges is that jumble of glacial erratics pictured in the last post. We didn’t go close enough to the edge to peek down there.

even way up here there were a few dead fish

Only with winter-patience can we bring
The deep-desired, long-awaited spring.

~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh
(The Unicorn & Other Poems)

We found the trail again and managed to follow it all the way back down to the cemetery. I’m pleased to report that neither of us fell! I slipped a couple of feet once but my sticks saved me. 🙂 That’s probably enough of steep climbs for us!

hairy woodpecker, telephoto lens
same hairy woodpecker
mallards on Stoddard Cove, also telephoto lens
thin ice on Stoddard Cove

It was nice to finally stand on level ground and take a couple of bird pictures. Phew!

a light shines through us

12.28.20 ~ Stoddard Hill State Park
Ledyard, Connecticut

We took this walk along the banks of the Thames River a couple of weeks ago. Immediately we were confronted with dead, half-eaten fish littering the path. It was pretty creepy and we wondered what on earth was going on. We had to watch our steps!

probably Atlantic menhaden

Later, after asking around, we learned that this phenomenon has been spotted by others taking walks in other natural areas near the river. We tried to ignore the gruesome scene underfoot and enjoy what else the trail had to offer…

spotted wintergreen

From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(The Selected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson)

fungi? lichen? growing in tree wound cavity
Stoddard Cemetery

We found a cemetery at the foot of a hillside of jumbled glacial erratics. We noticed a couple of stones for local Revolutionary War soldiers.

Stoddard Cemetery
a huge burl on a very thin tree trunk
glacial erratics seeming to tumble down the side of the hill
lichen growing on part of an erratic

In the past month, DEEP Fisheries Division staff have received and investigated numerous calls of reported sightings of dead fish along the Connecticut shoreline, from Darien to New London, and numerous points in between. These incidents, known as fish kills, involve a species of fish called Atlantic Menhaden, also known as “bunker.” Menhaden are the most abundant marine fish species on the east coast, and fish kills involving them are not uncommon. Menhaden fish kills can occur for a variety of reasons, most often due to natural or environmental factors such as school-induced hypoxia (lack of oxygen) or cold water temperature. While DEEP continues to investigate these events, staff believe the cause of the fish kills observed over the past month have been due to more Menhaden overwintering in the Sound this year, possibly due to a missed migration cue, leading them to succumb to the cold water temperatures and a lack of nourishment.
~ The Fisherman website, December 14, 2020

jumble of erratics from another angle
Norwich & Worcester Railroad tracks, Thames River
big scramble of glacial erratics cascading down off Stoddard Hill
looking down over the very steep riverbank
every few steps, another one
???
an open acorn stash

Recently I found a website with pictures of old postcards of huge glacial erratics, many from New England. When the pandemic is over, and if health permits, we might try to visit a few of these! Boulders of the United States

off the beaten path

12.29.20 ~ cute little sapling
Connecticut College Arboretum, New London, Connecticut

Tuesday we donned our masks and warm layers and headed over to the Arboretum to meet my sister and her husband for our first in-person visit since the pandemic started in March, unless you count video calls and quick verbal exchanges from our balcony to the parking lot. We had planned a “safe” outdoor meeting like this to celebrate Thanksgiving and then Christmas, but rain had spoiled our plans for both days.

Beverly & John, geologist and botanist, know the natural areas of the Arboretum like the backs of their hands so I was anticipating a wonderful guided tour, off the beaten path. It did feel awfully unnatural, though, keeping six feet apart behind masks for a couple of hours, but we pulled if off. It was so good being with them again. We explored the Bolleswood Natural Area.

partridge berry

Partridge Berry is a native perennial, a small, woody, trailing vine with 6 to 12 inch, slender, trailing stems that does not climb but lays prostrate on the forest floor. The trailing stems root at nodes which come in contact with the forest surface and may spread into colonies several yards across. … The fruits are tasteless and generally survive through winter and into the following spring. Birds are the primary consumer of these fruits and the subsequent distribution of seeds.
~ US Forest Service website

Knowing about our recent fascination with glacial erratics, Beverly had a surprise for us, a huge one! Our first glimpse of it is below…

first side
front side

It looks like that rotting tree grew up there and was then snapped down in a storm. But it also looks like humans have moved some wood around, making it look like the wood is holding up the stone, but it’s not. It’s resting on other erratics underground.

other side (Tim is 5’8″)
a close-up from the back
a peek underneath ~ two orbs!

After marveling over this erratic’s size and its precarious perch we continued on. Sometimes there was so much moss along the path it reminded me of a forest in Ireland.

And we finally came to a flooded bog. (The drought is definitely over.) It was beautiful with bits of moss, autumn leaves under the water, partial sheets of thin ice, sticks, and a few remaining plants and grasses.

And then John pointed out a carnivorous plant…

pitcher plant hidden in leaves

The pitchers trap and digesting flying and crawling insects, making the species one of the few carnivorous plants in North America. The hollow pitchers fill naturally with rainwater. The pitchers also have broad lips where insects land. The insects crawl into the pitcher, where stiff, downward pointing hairs prevent them from leaving. Anectdoctal evidence suggests pitchers capture less than one percent of the flies that venture into their traps, but a few insects eventually fall into the water at the base of the pitcher, where digestive enzymes secreted by the plant release the nutrients within the insects. Eventually, the nutrients are absorbed by the plant, which supplements the nutrients absorbed by the roots.
~ US Forest Service website

pitcher plant

On our way out of the Arboretum we saw…

winterberry aka black alder
oyster mushroom, thanks to Larisa’s friend for the id

It was sad to say good-bye but we were getting cold and so made our way home to some hot tea. Curled up under our blankets, we put on some music and our happy holiday hearth DVD. Very cozy after having rosy cheeks from the chilly air. Maybe we’ll do this again — hopefully soon.

candlewood pines

4.17.20 ~ Candlewood Ridge, Groton, Connecticut

On Friday we tried the new-to-us park again and this time there was noone in sight at the trailhead – yay! This property was acquired in 2013. After crossing a little bridge over a brook we climbed up to Candlewood Ridge and enjoyed looking up and down the ravine on the other side. We followed the trails for over an hour. Tim’s legs and back did much better and I’m wondering if walking on the earth is better for him than walking on hard surfaces like pavement and concrete.

4.17.20 ~ crossing a stream, skunk cabbage

Candlewood Ridge is part of a critical large block of diverse wildlife habitats highlighted on the State of CT Natural Diversity Database maps: early successional forest, oak-hemlock-hickory upland forest, native shrubby and grassy habitat, forested peatlands, kettle type bogs, tussock sedge, poor fens, multiple seeps, several Tier I vernal pools, and streams.
~ Groton Open Space Association website

4.17.20 ~ almost to the top of the ridge
4.17.20 ~ a very tall bare tree trunk
4.17.20 ~ taken with telephoto lens, a huge boulder across the ravine

The songs of birds filled the air! A chickadee scolded us from a branch so close I could have reached out and touched it. But he flew off before I could lift the camera…

4.17.20 ~ the glacial erratics found here were fewer and more
widely spaced than the ones we saw in Ledyard’s Glacial Park

We followed the trail north along the top of the ridge and then it slowly went downhill until we reached a bridge across another stream. From studying the map it looks like the two unnamed streams join and then eventually merge with Haley Brook.

4.17.20 ~ second bridge on the trail
4.17.20 ~ a squirrel nest
4.17.20 ~ the little stream
4.17.20 ~ vernal pool?

All the green under the water (above) looked to me like drowning princess pines.

4.17.20 ~ taken with telephoto lens across the sand plain
4.17.20 ~ the sand plain with glacial erratic in the distance

We turned around here without crossing the plain and climbing that ridge!

4.17.20 ~ might these be the candlewood pines
(pitch pines) the ridge is named for?
4.17.20 ~ pussy willows
4.17.20 ~ one tree favors moss, the other lichens

Crossing the stream on the return trip, a tiny bright spot of yellow-orange caught my eye. What is it??? I used the telephoto lens to get a picture and tried to identify it when I got home. Hope I got it right. A mushroom.

4.17.20 ~ calostoma cinnabarinum, telephoto lens
(stalked puffball-in-aspic or gelatinous stalked-puffball)

Just before crossing the second stream on the return walk, a garter snake slithered across the path right in front of me. Startled, I then spotted him trying to hide in the leaves. Don’t think I’ve seen a garter snake since I was a child, sunning themselves on the stone walls around the garden.

4.17.20 ~ hiding garter snake

It was a wonderful walk!

4.17.20 ~ beauty in a vernal pool

I go to Nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more.
~ John Burroughs
(The Gospel of Nature)

wood wide web

“Landscape with Stump” by Ivan Shishkin

But the most astonishing thing about trees is how social they are. The trees in a forest care for each other, sometimes even going so far as to nourish the stump of a felled tree for centuries after it was cut down by feeding it sugars and other nutrients, and so keeping it alive. Only some stumps are thus nourished. Perhaps they are the parents of the trees that make up the forest of today. A tree’s most important means of staying connected to other trees is a “wood wide web” of soil fungi that connects vegetation in an intimate network that allows the sharing of an enormous amount of information and goods. Scientific research aimed at understanding the astonishing abilities of this partnership between fungi and plant has only just begun.
~ Peter Wohlleben
(The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate ~ Discoveries from a Secret World)

helping hand

RenoufHelpingHand
“The Helping Hand” by Émile Renouf

The first time I ever saw a print of this painting was at an estate sale, not long after my father died on September 19th in 2013. The expression on the man’s face reminded me of my father and the little girl reminded me of myself so I bought it. It’s not in the greatest condition and the coloring is way off. Perhaps the coloring on this digital copy is off, too. Some day I may replace it with a better copy.

He’s been gone for three years now and I still miss him, my favorite teacher. Papa taught me how to wash my hair, how to cross the street, how to trust my own instincts, how to treat animals, how to be compassionate and kind, how to swim, how to ice skate, how to paddle a canoe, how to chop an onion, how to look up words in a dictionary, how to do research, how to enjoy bird-watching, how to garden, how to walk (and play) in the woods — the list goes on. I think of him every time I do any of those things.

It’s almost autumn and I will be eating as many Macoun apples as I can while the season lasts. They were his favorites. He often told me the following story when I was growing up. (It first appeared almost 6 years ago on my blog!)

When my father was a boy growing up on a New England farm during the Great Depression, his family picked as many apples as they could and stored some of them in a barrel in the root cellar. Of course he ate as many as he could while picking them, but his parents had a rule about the ones in the barrel he found exasperating. If anyone wanted an apple later in the fall or winter, he was required to take one that was the least fresh. By the time they got to the fresher ones they had also become much less fresh! So all winter he was having to make do with eating not-so-great apples. If only he had known he might have called on Iduna to keep the apples fresher longer!
~ Barbara Rodgers
(Iduna: Keeper of Apples)

But perhaps I miss him the most whenever I hear a story on the news about a threat from a new virus or other infectious agent. Dad was a microbiologist and was utterly fascinated with microorganisms — viruses, bacteria, spirochetes, amoebas, fungi, parasites. He would never tire of explaining things about them to me and correcting any misinformation the media might be passing along to his fellow citizens. And I never tired of listening. I find myself wondering what he would have had to say about the Zika virus. It’s not easy finding someone so interested in this subject!

I didn’t notice it at first, but my father died on his older brother’s birthday. Jon Stephen was born on September 19th in 1909 in Ukraine. My father, Theodore William, never knew his older brother because Jon died of a ruptured appendix on March 15th in 1919 in New York, when he was only 9 years old. Papa was born three years later on March 13th in 1922. A little bit of synchronicity there I think.

Still missing you, my dear old Papa!

amazing mycelium

giant mushrooms (Auckland, New Zealand) photo by wonderferret
giant mushrooms (Auckland, New Zealand) photo by wonderferret

I believe that mycelium is the neurological network of nature. Interlacing mosaics of mycelium infuse habitats with information-sharing membranes. These membranes are aware, react to change, and collectively have the long-term health of the host environment in mind. The mycelium stays in constant molecular communication with its environment, devising diverse enzymatic and chemical responses to complex challenges.
~ Paul Stamets
(Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World)

Paul Stamets on 6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World